from the mixed up files of Agent Manners: multiple offers of representation

Dear Agent Manners:

I’ve heard about writers receiving multiple offers of representation. After asking these authors how this happened, most say that, after receiving one offer, they then informed the other agents considering their manuscript, hoping to get more offers of representation from them. Do agents expect this to happen when they make an offer? Is it considered rude or tacky? Is there a certain way writers should go about informing the other agents of the first offer?

Any advice is much appreciated.

Curious in Kentucky

Dear Curious:

Should you find yourself in this enviable position, Agent Manners recommends contacting each agent at once and informing them you have received an offer of representation. It is not necessary to let anyone know who has offered, though you may choose to do so. It is polite to offer a small window of time for responses (if you can include a weekend, by all means do so – it will likely get your work a more thorough reading). However, do keep in mind that the object here is not to play the agents off each other but to find the best match for yourself as author. If you are polite and professional, few agents should be able to find fault with your behavior in this situation. (It may help to remember that many agents are acquainted with each other, some of them even well-acquainted.)

Having experienced this very situation as both the offering agent and also on the other side, Agent Manners emphasizes that if you are submitting simultaneously you make that most clear at the time of the initial submission. What agents tend to find most frustrating is the blindsiding effect, particularly if they have already invested time in a writer. Again, it is not necessary to send details. A simple one-sentence indication that your work is on multiple submission should suffice.


Any other questions on this topic?

24 responses to “from the mixed up files of Agent Manners: multiple offers of representation

  1. I have a further question, Agent Manners. This is helpful stuff!
    What if a writer seeking representation finds herself in the position of having multiple agents reading their full manuscript at one time, but there are still a few other agents the writer would like to query (say, if they haven’t queried everyone at once). Would you suggest that writer wait until she has heard back from all the agents with fulls before sending more queries – assuming they all come back with passes – or should she send the queries now, but be sure to let the agents know there are lots of fulls being considered? (Because, obviously, the possibility here is that one of those current agents could offer, and then the writer will never know if others she has researched would have been interested.)
    Thanks very much. 🙂

  2. If one is not making multiple submissions, is there any benefit in saying so in an initial query? Or would that be something to save for a requested partial, or not even then?

    • If you are making an exclusive submission at the query level, I’d mention it, if only for getting the agent’s attention because it’s quite unusual. I think most agents I know assume multiple at the query level. It’s at the partial and manuscript level that exclusives more often come into play.

  3. Thanks for opening the door for these questions. kazdreamer asked one for me–the answer is what I needed! Here’s another.
    I just finished a hefty revision for an established agent in a well-known agency, based on an equally hefty set of revision notes from her. I was happy to do this because I felt she was right on most points. I’m happy with this new version — I’d rather this one be published than the old one.
    The agent read it, didn’t love it, wants another revision. I feel that if revised according to the new notes, the theme I see as the heart of the book will be lost. I emailed her with this thought (and a few others) more than a week ago and haven’t heard back. This is unusual, because she’s been lightning-fast with responses.
    Question 1: Is it safe to think “She’s just not into me anymore?” I realize full well that agents have lives and Stuff, too, and that this is a terribly slow business, but when should I take the hint? Should I call the agency in a blind panic, asking if she’s alive? Should I call her mom and whine?
    To complicate things further, I just received a partial request from my initial round of queries.
    Question 2: Even though Agent A has essentially treated me as a client until recently, do I have any obligation of fidelity to her? Am I allowed to continue to query? She never offered representation.

    • It’s great that you are happy with the newer version of the story. Getting that level of feedback from an agent who doesn’t already represent you is getting more and more unusual, I think.
      Speaking as someone who has invested time in revisions and then had an author go elsewhere, I can say that it feels most disappointing. I ended up feeling, well, used, somehow. I’d make another attempt to contact this agent. A polite email following up on the previous one. It’s entirely possible the agent has been traveling (it’s conference season) and hasn’t been able to be as timely as they’d like. Happens to me all the time.
      But (and this hurts to say out loud) if your vision of the book and the agent’s vision do not mesh, do not compromise your story. It’s your book. However, give the agent a chance to have the conversation about it. Perhaps they simply need to hear more of your point of view.
      With regard to your second question, if this agent has not officially offered representation, then querying elsewhere remains an option. However, given this agent’s investment to date, I’d do my best to keep them informed of any change in circumstances.
      Hope this helps.

      • Thanks for all of this. I don’t want to be in such a hurry for a sale that I burn bridges or act unprofessionally. I did notify her about the new request a few days ago when it happened. Still haven’t heard back. We’ll see what happens.

  4. Even on a query. Interesting.
    I’d always figured it was a given that a query letter is a multiple submission. If I’d sent a partial/full to more than one agent at a time, I’d have noted that (hasn’t happened yet, but my newest book is going out in less than a month so fingers crossed).
    Would I just put, “This query is a multiple submission.” somewhere near the bottom of the letter? I envision agents rolling their eyes and going, “Duh.” Is there better wording? I wouldn’t say how many agents are receiving it, would I? “This query is being sent to you and seven hundred and fifty-eight of your colleagues.” 🙂

    • Re: Even on a query. Interesting.
      I do think most agents assume queries are simultaneous.
      If you are referring to “initial submission” — I mean of a requested partial or manuscript. Perhaps I should have clarified, but I must admit I don’t think of a query as a submission. It’s an inquiry to solicit a request for a submission.

      • Re: Even on a query. Interesting.
        Ah, I see the difference. Now, if Agent A requests a partial, which I send, and then Agent B requests a partial, I will tell B that someone else is looking. Should I also contact A to say I have sent to B? If not, it seems as though B has more information, but will A see that as nagging for a response?

  5. Related Question
    I have a related question. If a writer were to get an offer from a Major Publisher, and he or she has been working with an agent off and on for a while on a different project (with no offer of representation), is it proper etiquette to contact that agent first with the offer?
    Or would all agents considering the project be equally entitled to a contact?

    • Re: Related Question
      Technically, any agent that has the project under consideration should be contacted about a change in circumstance such as this. Whether they have equal entitlement based on your experience with the agent and the other project, is really up to you as a writer. You should try to get the agent that you feel is most suited to you and your work.

  6. Uhm… On second thought, Agent Manners…
    I tell you what, let’s approach it this way:
    IF I’m a writer and
    IF I’m submitting and
    IF I still have a pulse
    THEN go ahead and assume that it’s on multiple submission unless I mention that I’m sending to you exclusively.
    Back before I signed with an agent I made an effort to submit in small, six query waves timed three weeks apart. I was signed by a second wave agent before I could put the eighth wave in the mailbox. I still haven’t heard back from half of agents holding my queries. Losing between three weeks and five months on an exclusive submission?
    I’m not sure which baffles me more, the ego of the writer who is that confident in their prose or the ego of the agent who still expects to get exclusive queries in this day and age.

    • Re: Uhm… On second thought, Agent Manners…
      Perhaps you should have a look at some of the previous comments in this exchange, particularly the one where it was clarified:
      “I don’t think of a query as a submission. It’s an inquiry to solicit a request for a submission.”
      There is nothing in the answer provided above that in any way indicates that queries should be exclusive. But, instead, that it is courteous to let agents who are investing time in a submission of a partial or full manuscript know that it’s a multiple submission. (Is it really that inconvenient to add the one line to the cover letter?)
      Also, as it is repeatedly brought to an agent’s attention that they should not measure all writers with the same yardstick, it would be a welcome courtesy to think that writers might consider doing the same with respect to agents. Many agents are prompt and professional; but not all. Naturally, your mileage may vary. Same with writers, in Agent Manners experience.

  7. Agent Manners questions
    Does admitting to multiple submissions make it any less likely that an agent will look at the query?
    And here’s a slightly different question: what if an author (say, me) had wanted to query a particular agent (say, you) at an agency, but sent a query to a different agent instead. [Because QueryTracker had a number of notes that said that emails addressed specifically to you were being bounced back.]
    I actually got a very nice rejection from Donald Maass’s assistant saying that the partial was a great idea, but not for him. Is it against the “Agent Manners” rules to send it out to you, since you are at the same agency, even if I think that it would suit you better? (And what’s with the emails not working, anyway?)

  8. I just went through this exact process last December, and it was very stressful. Thank God for Miss Snark’s archives!
    I did pretty much exactly what you recommend here: When the offer came in, I notified all the agents who had already requested partial or full manuscripts (not everyone I queried). One passed immediately, saying he didn’t have time. Another didn’t connect with the characters and passed after reading the partial.
    Of the three that wanted to work with me, I spoke with all of them, asked a couple questions and signed with one. It’s worked out very well.
    The only thing I was unsure of was how to answer “Who else has offered to represent you?” I wasn’t sure if I should say, and so I didn’t.

    • good question – do you say who has offered representation?
      Is it okay / recommended to give out the name of the agent who has offered representation, when you’re letting the other agents you’ve queried know it’s been offered?

      • Re: good question – do you say who has offered representation?
        I think that is up to the author. I have personally not directly asked because I don’t judge it relevant to whether I will offer or not. But if the information is offered, I’m interested to know.

      • Re: good question – do you say who has offered representation?
        I didn’t give out the names, but maybe I should have. At the time, I was concerned that the agent asking would bow out because a) they didn’t think much of the other agents or b) they thought the other agents would be so mighty in their agentness that they couldn’t compete.
        No, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, especially now looking back on it, but it was a weird, stressful time.

  9. Oh, excellent timing. A friend of mine asked me a related question today and I wasn’t able to be helpful.
    The friend has received two offers of representation. Agent 1 wants revisions before signing. Agent 2 wants revisions but is willing to sign now. The friend isn’t sure if wanting revisions prior to signing is standard practice and is nervous, but otherwise prefers Agent 1.

    • Asking for revisions prior to signing has become more usual lately, particularly with first-time authors. However, the person needs to realize that even if they do revisions, there is no guarantee the Agent 1 will then represent them. I have been in the situation where the revisions just didn’t work out. So, as long as they are aware of that fact, they should make their decision based on which agent they think is the best overall match.

  10. Dear Agent Manners:
    The conversation about multiple queries/submissions to agents has been fascinating, and reminds me of a separate but related question.
    A big-name and multi-published writer of my acquaintance has advised everyone to simultaneously submit their novels to five or six publishers at once, or if represented to instruct their agents to do so. (“You shouldn’t simul-sub short stories,” he clarifies, “but you should on novels.”) This strikes me, as one familiar with short story submission etiquette, as extremely impolite and likely to land the submitter in hot water, but he insists that it is acceptable and, with the long response times for novel manuscripts, it is the only way to make a living in this business.
    Are simultaneous submissions for novels acceptable?

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